Carson City child support office admits problems in getting cases opened
Carson District Attorney Noel Waters learned something this past week that single mothers trying to get child support in the capital city have known for a long time – it takes forever to get your case opened and get your first check.
Jennifer Duve filed for help in getting child support from her ex-husband Oct. 29, 1999. She had all the necessary paperwork, including the divorce decree, but nothing happened.
“We just hit the five-month mark and I still don’t have a case or a case number,” she said.
Other counties including Washoe say they typically open a case within a week after getting the applications.
Waters first said he hoped that horror story was an isolated case. But Vicki Chittenden, who runs the Family Support unit in Waters’ office, told him a delay of at least several months is normal in their office and that Duve may not be alone in her five-month wait.
She said the primary problem is that all her staff’s efforts now are focused on getting their 1,720 cases entered and converted into the state’s controversial and complicated NOMADS computer system.
If Carson and all other Nevada counties don’t make it by Oct. 1, Nevada faces millions in penalties that could hurt not only child support but welfare and other social service programs.
With just four caseworkers and three temporary workers for NOMADS, Chittenden said their hands are full with NOMADS and the task of managing the existing cases in the county.
She said something had to give and that something has been entering new cases, which is complex and time consuming, especially in NOMADS.
“That really bothers me,” said Waters. “It really isn’t acceptable to go that long to get a case opened,” he said. “I’m really troubled by it.”
Duve said sympathy doesn’t help her pay the rent. She said she would have collapsed financially months ago except for support from her parents and other relatives.
“I’m just really lucky I have family, mom and dad,” she said.
She says when she calls the Carson City Family Support unit for help, they just tell her they’re buried in the task of converting to NOMADS and haven’t had time.
“He received his unemployment and I got none of it. He already got his IRS refund. We know that,” she said. “And I’m not even in the system yet.”
“There isn’t a single person out there who doesn’t fret over what isn’t being done,” said Chittenden of her staff. “But we can’t keep up with the input.”
She said Carson City has a stack of new cases they don’t have time to open up. And until they are opened up, those single mothers won’t get a dime of that child support their ex-husbands, the courts and the rest of the system says they have coming.
She said, however, she believes they will be able to catch up once the NOMADS conversion is out of the way.
But at least one other single mother says the problem has been there a lot longer than the NOMADS conversion, which Carson City started at the beginning of this year.
Angel Dey of Carson City says she filed paperwork for her case in April 1999, including a DNA test certifying the identity of her son’s father.
“They told me it would be 60 to 90 days. After two months, they hadn’t done anything,” she said. “I didn’t even have a case opened.”
So, she says, she started going back every week. It took more than three months to get a case opened but even longer to get a court order for support.
She finally got a hearing date Dec. 15 – nearly eight months after filing – and says she was told about that hearing by the family support unit in Greeley, Colo., where the father lives.
Dey says she received almost no help from the Family Support unit in Carson City.
“They didn’t even tell me I had a hearing here,” she says. “They were absolutely no help whatsoever. Almost all the help I got was from Colorado. When those people got involved, things got done.”
She says it took weeks to get Carson City to even send the information to Colorado.
“I had to go in and bug them and bug them and bug them,” she said.
“And they yelled at me and told me they only had two caseworkers.”
It was February, nine months after she filed for support, before she got the first check.
“I really don’t have a good taste in my mouth for these people,” she said.
Kim Riggs, who deals with homeless issues for the Carson School District, said those women are far from alone. She said she knows of far too many families on the brink of financial ruin who wouldn’t be nearly as bad off if they were getting the child support they have coming.
She said she blames much of the problem on the demands of the NOMADS conversion and that a small staff like Carson City’s Family Support unit just can’t do it all.
“I’d like to go to the governor’s office and tell him to cut them a check. He has a cushy little house, but what are these people supposed to live on?”
Waters said he will be looking for some way to get those cases entered and open so that at least some of those women can begin getting the money owed to them for their children, that he may have to move some staff power to the task despite the pressure to complete the NOMADS conversion.